Disclaimer: I own nothing; J.K. owns both of the little darlings along with everything else.

Author's Note: Okay, so this story was inspired by a Tom Riddle/Dumbledore thread on harrypotterfanfiction forums (it comes up if you type "Tom Riddle Albus Dumbledore Slash" into Google) where members made such comments as "I can't really see this ship happening to be honest. Not only would it be stretching cannon to its limits, but I don't think I'd ever find it convincing enough to work in fanfiction." and "Ewwwww!" but also the more positive:

"Do I think it likely? No. Do I think it could be possible? Of course! I mean, this is fan fiction, and you can do almost anything! It would be a bit awkward, but it could happen. I think that inspite of everything, Dumbledore could, even if briefly, see what he saw in Grindelwald in Tom Riddle. I don't think that this pairing could ever last, because Dumbledore would realize that they could never be together, and that it was a similar situation as was with Grindelwald. I think on Riddle's end it would have been more in love with Dumbledore's power and using that more than actual love for Dumbledore."

And that, dear reader, was that - I had to go and write the bloody thing!


"The old argument," he said softly. "But nothing I have seen in the world has supported your famous pronouncement that love is more powerful than my kind of magic, Dumbledore." 'The Half-Blood Prince', p. 415

When exactly did Albus Dumbledore and Tom Riddle sit down and have an argument about love and dark magic? Perhaps Albus knew Tom more intimately than he let on to Harry? And so, I present, APWBD/TMR – post-Hogwarts.

Brilliant

"So Voldemort went off to work at Borgin and Burke's, and all the staff who had admired him said what a waste it was, a brilliant young wizard like that, working in a shop."'The Half-Blood Prince', p. 405

Tom Marvolo Riddle at nineteen was so beautiful it took Albus' breath away. There was frightening potential there, truly frightening. Tom Riddle should have become the Albus Dumbledore of his generation – won the Barnabas Finkley Prize, applied for and gotten scholarships to the societies of Masters in whichever field he preferred, been hailed as the most promising wizard to come out of Hogwarts since Albus himself.

And yet Tom Riddle had disappeared. Only to be found again in this dusty old shop in Knockturn Alley. With pale skin luminous in the dim light, dark eyes liquid molasses, lips innocent – Tom was like a priceless jewel Albus Dumbledore had found abandoned in a cramped attic.

"What are you doing here, Tom?" Albus asked, before politeness could sugarcoat his shock. Was it possible I read him wrong? Did I condemn a boy with no ambition as a power-hungry monster? How is this possible? Where is our vainglorious Head Boy? Is this my fault – it was on my advice that Armando denied him the teaching position… A wave of nausea dropped into the pit of his stomach. He would have made a horrid teacher. Albus wondered if Tom simply didn't care enough to get a job elsewhere, where is the famed Slytherin ambition? Where is it? This was wrong. This was unnatural.

The boy merely gave a polite smile and raised his dark brows, "Working, naturally. How can I help you, professor?" A perfect shop clerk…

"What about all your recommendations…? I thought Horace had… what about your talents? Didn't you apply?"

"I fail to understand your interest, professor. But, since you are interested, no, I did not apply for an apprenticeship to a Master, or an internship at the Ministry."

"But, but…?" It was incomprehensible. Did I misjudge him? Impossible… then, why, why is one of the most brilliant students ever to come out of Hogwarts working as a store clerk?

"Now, I assume you came in here with a purpose?" Tom asked smoothly.

When faced with this sort of situation in the ordinary scheme of things, Albus would go to the boy's parents and plead with them that their child deserved better and ought to aspire to be more than a shopkeeper. But Tom had no parents. Albus wasn't even sure if Tom had any friends; he'd always been oddly anti-social, even as an eleven year-old.

"When do you finish work? I'd like to talk with you about this." He said in tones he hoped evoked a disappointed, yet encouraging mentor.

The boy stared at Albus, dark eyes cold. He did not smile. "Mr. Burke will come in to relieve me at three o'clock." Now he did smile, but it didn't even reach the muscles in his hollow cheeks, let alone his eyes. "Where would you like to meet?"

Albus knew that Tom disliked crowds, "How about the Sphinx Café?" It was a quiet place just off Diagon Alley. They made excellent scones.

"Alright – I'll be there." Tom turned away and blew an errant strand of black fringe from his eyes.

Professor Dumbledore left, completely forgetting the specialized sneakoscope he'd intended to purchase. He window-shopped restlessly for the next hour, reliving Tom's Hogwarts years. Handsome, charismatic, brilliant… yet, distant; although Tom had been the undisputed leader of Slytherin House, he'd never had a close friend that Albus could see. Never had the kind of easy friendship Albus had found in Elphias, Nicolas and, yes… Gellert.

Tom reminds me so much of Gellert… His conspicuous power, intelligence, beauty, and his almost obsessive interest in the Dark Arts: all qualities the Austrian Dark Lord had shared. But Gellert would have laughed at the thought of working in a shop. Why is he there? Was Tom even more subtle than anyone could have thought? Was he biding his time…? What is he waiting for? Albus shook his head, I'm being paranoid – he's just nineteen! Tom is not Gellert. He's not going to suddenly metamorphose into another Lord Grindelwald. He's not even studying higher branches of magic – he's selling cursed antiques!

There were only a few other people in the Sphinx Café when Tom entered, looking very shabby. In Borgin and Burke's he'd possessed a rarified quality, but here he was merely an overly-lanky, dark-haired young man in what looked like a second-hand black robe, fraying at the edges. But as he slid into his seat opposite, Albus was once more conscious of the boy's magnetism. He's nineteen! You're a pervert. You teach boys only two years younger than Tom. But Tom wasn't his student. Not anymore. "Ah, Tom… you came! Sit down, sit down… what would you like?"

"Water will be fine, thank you." He didn't as much as glance at the menu before him.

Is it pride, I wonder, or antipathy? Albus had already ordered a plate of scones. "Tom, I ask you again, what are you doing?"

"I don't understand the question." A thin hand raised a glass of water to pale lips.

"Don't make me praise you Tom. You know perfectly well what you're capable of becoming if you only made the effort."

"Like you, Professor…? Hero of Great Britain, the legendary wizard who vanquished Lord Grindelwald?" He said it in an odd tone that Albus couldn't quite fathom.

"…Something of the sort, yes," It took great effort for Albus to grin modestly.

"I'm saving money to go traveling." Tom said abruptly. "I'm not interested in the sort of paltry glory everyone seems to expect me to subscribe to. I want to see the world."

Paltry glory…? No, this is no Gellert Grindelwald. "Oh. Well, that's excellent! Where are you planning on going?"

"Everywhere," Tom's expression was solemn, but his eyes sparkled, something Albus had not seen in the shop or even at school.

"Everywhere is rather expensive, I suppose. But you needn't be working in that dank little shop – you could–"

"–I'm fine. I don't need your advice, professor. You've always made it very clear you don't like me. I fail to see why you've suddenly developed a say in my life."

Albus leaned forward and stared into those fathomless dark eyes. "What do you want, Tom?"

"I want…" the boy stopped himself, nervous.

"Go on, tell me…" Albus encouraged.

He was fixed with a passionate gaze, "I want to know everything about everything; I want to understand the mysteries of life and death, I want to see and do things that no one has ever dreamed of…" His voice had dropped to a whisper, intense and determined. To his dismay, Albus found himself aroused by his ex-student's desire. So much like Gellert… Master of the Hallows, Master of Death… But Gellert had been golden, expansive, and generous; … Tom was shadowed, unreadable, friendless… whereas Gellert would light up a room with his presence, Tom darkened a doorway with his too tall, too thin, shadow.

Once more, Albus had that sense (thankfully dimming his arousal), of imminent danger, which he had often got from Tom Riddle at Hogwarts. The boy was like a tame manticore – you never knew when his true nature might assert itself and he might hurt someone. But doesn't every powerful wizard have that potential inside them? I faced that temptation too – and failed.

It was then that the scones arrived – warm and smelling divine – accompanied by little dishes of butter, jam and cream, and at that point that Albus Dumbledore decided to make Tom Riddle his friend; and perhaps, just perhaps, something more.

Tom whetted his lips, gazing at them, looking uncomfortable. Albus smiled and picked one up, coating it liberally in jam and cream. "Go ahead, I ordered them for both of us." Tom glanced at Albus and then back at the scones. Without saying anything, he took the smallest one and spread a rather mean amount of butter on it. Albus could feel the tension in his movements, "So, Tom… where are you living nowadays?"

~*~

"…Knave of Spades: a dark young man, possibly troubled, one who dislikes the questioner." She stopped dead, right on the other side of Harry's statue. "Well, that can't be right..." – 'The Half-Blood Prince', p. 185

Tom was unnerved by Professor Dumbledore's sudden scrutiny. Sitting on the floor of his dingy flat above Knockturn Alley, Tom worried. Does he know about my family? Is that why he's seeking me out? I didn't leave any clues, did I? Morfin's in Azkaban for the murders… no one would suspect…? But Dumbledore had always suspected him at school, always seemed to know what he was up to… It's impossible! He just feels guilty seeing such a brilliant student working in a shop. He's probably the one who persuaded Dippet not to let me teach.

Lying back on his mattress, Tom stared at the ceiling. There was no furniture in the tiny flat, only Tom's trunk and a mattress shoved against a wall. Although the room could have been magically improved, Tom had no desire to change it. What did he care for appearances? He was living in a hovel, why dress it up to be otherwise?

An owl tapped at the grimy window. Tom never received mail. He frowned and let the owl in – an expensive tawny owl, well looked after. He read the message.

Dear Tom,

Meeting you yesterday was a revelation to me. I understand that you don't like to feel beholden to anyone, but I feel compelled to ask if you'll let me help you. Truth be told, I feel I owe it to you. It's so rare to see a young wizard of your calibre, even rarer to find one who doesn't care what is thought of him. I know our relationship at Hogwarts was decidedly cool, for which I apologize and I'd like to have a chance to change that.

Would you consider visiting me at Godric's Hollow this Sunday? There are many interesting things I could show you – not to mention my alchemical research with Nicolas Flamel, which I have no doubt you would find fascinating. Please come, and let me prove to you that your mistrust is unfounded.

Albus D.

So it was that Tom Riddle found himself standing outside Godric's Hollow in the warm summer air. He knocked and the door opened almost at once.

"Ah, Tom! Come in, come in… I was just um…" A sweep of fire caught Tom's eye as a brilliant phoenix alighted on Dumbledore's shoulder. "This is Fawkes, my familiar." The professor tickled his bird under the chin. The phoenix gave Tom a look, as if to say, what's a creature like you doing here?

I've no idea, Tom thought. Curiosity, I suppose…?

Dumbledore ushered him into a cosy parlour and indicated a soft armchair, embroidered with purple roses. Tom couldn't help but sigh as he sank into the silken cushions. It felt like decades since Hogwarts. "Professor, why am I here…? I don't understand…" Then Tom frowned, I seem to be saying that a lot, lately.

Albus decided that now was the moment for absolute candour. He set the silver tea-tray down. "Tom… I misjudged you. I admit, I've always viewed you with suspicion, mainly because… because I saw someone else I once knew in you…"

Tom didn't touch the tea, afraid it might have been laced with Veritaserum. "What exactly did you suspect me of, professor?" he asked, his heart-rate rising, his face immobile.

"The capacity to become something… monstrous…" Albus' blue eyes were candid, heart-breaking, his voice nothing more than a whisper. "Then I realized my error. I have been blaming you for crimes he committed, not you… I hope you can forgive me for that."

Finding it difficult to speak, Tom stared at his former professor in wonder: to be so close to the truth and yet so blind…or is he lying, trying to draw me out?

"When I saw you at Borgin and Burke'sI couldn't help but feel responsible for you. I was the one who first introduced you to the wizarding world when you were eleven and it seems to me that I've failed you."

Tom looked out the window – two muggle boys were playing football in the street – before finally finding his voice, "Who are you talking about, professor?"

There was a pause and the professor sank down in the chair opposite Tom. He sighed, "I am speaking, Tom, of Gellert Grindelwald."

Sheer, unadulterated awe transfixed Tom Riddle. This man had seen the European Dark Lord in him when he was eleven years old. Had immediately sensed Tom's craving for domination. Seen the future that Tom dreamed of written in a child's features – how did he know? How? And how wonderful to be compared to one of the most powerful wizards of the century when a mere boy. But why was the professor telling him this? Was it what it seemed – or a test of some kind?

Albus watched the boy's mouth fall open at the mention of his old love. But it was not the horror Albus had expected, but an eerie look of triumph in those dark hazel eyes, which frightened him. "You haven't… done… anything have you, Tom?"

The boy looked away, pale cheeks flushing. "Not yet, professor, but… I've been… tempted…" Any good occlumens knew that a lie should always be injected with a liberal dose of truth. And he now knew that he had to be very, very careful around Dumbledore; very careful indeed.

Albus felt his heart melt. This boy… man… needed help. He put a hand on Tom's bony shoulder. "Call me Albus, Tom. I'm no longer your professor."

"Very well… Albus…" The sounding of his name by that voice! But an older and wiser part of his mind bit down hard on rush of love-sickness. No, not again!

~*~

"Did I know, in my heart of hearts, what Gellert Grindelwald was? I think I did, but I closed my eyes…" – 'Deathly Hallows', p. 574

Albus would invite Tom over almost every weekend. For Tom there were exciting magical theories, and he could help himself to the wealth of information and experience that was Albus Dumbledore. Also, Dumbledore made him feel… alive… the knife edge of discovery, the sheer adrenalin that came with sitting down to tea with a man who could end him, cast his dreams into oblivion, excited Tom, tested his ability to dissimulate to an astonishing degree. Spending time with Dumbledore was… fun.

As for Albus, he experienced the company of an attractive young man whose brilliance was absolutely fascinating. Tom could comprehend advanced magic almost intuitively; his spell-work was dazzling, Albus found himself asking more and more for the opinion of an nineteen year-old on his complex alchemical research. Love was a word that snuck into Albus' thoughts when he watched Tom gracefully jump up from his seat, stretch out a pale hand for a book or a cup of tea, and, even though he was almost unnaturally tall – he must reach at least six and half feet – his body was lithe and moved with a beauty that enthralled Albus.

But even better than that, Albus was slowly getting Tom to open up around him. It was so wonderful to hear that polite, colourless voice transfigured by curiosity; deep brown eyes alight with interest. Tom could be amusing – he had a very dry, dead-pan sense of humour that arrested Albus unexpectedly from time to time. It was Albus hope that his friendship with Tom would help the young man keep down the demons that Albus knew lurked behind those often immobile features – with every small smile, every chuckle, Albus felt he was gaining ground.

"You've found another, Albus," golden Gellert appeared in Albus' dreams, "Are you searching for me?" He sat in the long grass in the garden. "He's very beautiful, Albus…So was I, at his age."

"Yes, yes he is… and no, I'm not searching for you. I'm searching for what you should have been."

Gellert smiled and kissed Albus, nibbling at his ear. "Be careful, Albus…" And suddenly instead of Gellert there was Tom, dark and subtle, naked in the grass, luminous, smelling of old magic and youth… "Albus, Albus…" Tom hissed, tongue in Albus' ear, long-fingered hand inside the collar of Albus' robes. "I'm going to devour you… I'm going to eat you up…" Tom pushed Albus under him, holding him there, while he climbed on top. "What do you say?"

Albus' eyes shot open, his body was painfully aroused. "Damn!" he said aloud, causing Fawkes to glance at him quizzically from his perch. There was no one with whom he could share his love for Tom, no one to whom he could admit his longing. Elphias would be shocked and appalled, Nicolas quiet and disapproving. If anyone knew, he would forfeit his teaching position. And Albus couldn't bear to imagine life without teaching.

You've gone down this path once before. Ariana died. And now you're besotted with yet another brilliant young wizard – who's already shown signs of Gellert's malaise. Tom's face appeared before him once again, eyelashes lowered over his deep brown eyes, a blush on his pale cheeks, "Not yet, professor, but… I've been… tempted…"

Was it not all the more reason to befriend the young man? Befriend, the less charitable part of him sneered, befriend, eh? Platonic love, is it? Albus thumped his fist into his pillow. I won't make the same mistake again. This time will be different. Doesn't everyone deserve a second chance? Even… even me?

He rolled over in bed, his long auburn hair tied back from his face. He closed his eyes again and wished he hadn't woken up. Tom…!

~*~

"…Pity the living and those who live without love." –'Deathly Hallows', p. 578

Tom Riddle stared at the light coming through the windows of the shop; he could see the dust moving in the air. It seemed no one was coming in today. Watching the dust drift, he couldn't help but think of Prof… Albus, he insisted on being called Albus now. Tom couldn't deny that he liked the older wizard, in the sort of way he liked a particularly advanced spell: it was a pleasure because you knew it was special and you were perhaps one of the few who could cast it. Yes, that was the best description he'd found for his attraction to Albus Dumbledore.

And yet, it must be something beyond that. Otherwise, why would he long to while the days away at Godric's Hollow instead of being cooped up in the shop. He'd never minded before. It was quietly peaceful here – him, the artifacts, the darkness, the dust and a book. But he wanted to impress those twinkling blue eyes… what?

Tom very slowly put his book down. He had assumed his lack of interest in girls sprang from an innate disinterest in sex in general. Certainly the dirty periodicals which circulated the Slytherin dormitories had never cast their dubious spell over him. Am I actually a…? No. That was a silly thought. Touching Albus wouldn't be about sex – it would be about power. Touching Albus would be a glorious affirmation of Tom's power to charm even the canniest of adversaries. Hepzibah Smith was one thing, Albus Dumbledore was quite another. It would not be about something as mundane as sex… or gender. Perhaps Albus had once been attractive, but his looks were fading and Tom knew himself to be very handsome. What made Albus attractive was the power, the intellect, the vision. He thought of Albus showing him his latest alchemical equations – theories which made Tom's head spin. The man was a genius. And Tom was fooling him.

He wiped his eyes with the back of a pale hand, blinking. Stupid dust.

~*~

"When you have seen as much of life as I have, you will not underestimate the power of obsessive love…" Half-Blood Prince, p. 177

"Tom?" Albus and he were sitting outside in the garden on wicker chairs – it was a lovely day. Albus was reading the paper, sitting in the sun (he tanned well when he got the chance), and Tom relaxed under the shade of the oak, eyes closed.

"Yes?"

"Next month is September. I'll have to go back to Hogwarts…"

"What of it?" Tom's voice was cool, but Albus could see the underlying tension in his body. Sometimes Tom could be painfully easy to read.

"Well… I thought we might do something before then, if you could get time off from Messers Borgin and Burke? I thought… perhaps Brighton?"

A faint pink tinge entered Tom's cheeks and he opened his eyes, "I can't afford to…"

Albus regarded his young friend thoughtfully. "You needn't worry about money, you know," he said quietly.

At this, Tom suddenly sat ramrod straight and his cold stare was like a snake's – unblinking and hypnotic. "What do you want, Albus?"

Shifting under that gaze, Albus sensed that here was his choice – he could draw back, continue his life without Tom, without the delirium that he hadn't felt since Gellert. Or he could answer truthfully and unstop the dam that he'd built around his heart after Ariana's death. Somehow he knew that this was the last chance he would get. "You…" Albus croaked nervously, "I want you."

There was a pause and Tom eased himself out of his chair, stepping into the light. In the bright sun his skin looked unnaturally pale, dazzling. This was no golden denizen of the sun; this was a child of moonlight and stars; his inky eyes were undecipherable as he moved toward Albus who sat, petrified, held under the gaze of a basilisk. Tom held out a long-fingered hand. "Let's go inside."

Tom led Albus back into the house, up the stairs, and Albus opened the door to his bedroom. He'd slept with Gellert in… no, don't think about Gellert now. Think about Tom. Tom was taking his clothes off, stripping gracefully and throwing his clothes on the floor. Albus was amazed by how hairless he was – Albus himself was covered in auburn fuzz – but Tom was like a Greek statue, his skin marmoreal, his tall body wrapped with lean musculature. The demigod looked at Albus inquiringly, "Aren't you going to undress?" Albus began to fumble with his own clothes, getting his beard caught in the buttons of his robe as he tried to undo them, while Tom watched, sitting down on the bed.

Dark eyes stared at Albus, not giving anything away; inside Tom was nervous and ecstatic in equal amounts. Under the expensive robes, Albus was a man like any other. In fact he was surprisingly… hairy. The man looked like a satyr – long, wavy hair flowing down his back, well-brushed beard blending into his chest hair, his spindly legs and arms, all covered in thick auburn hair as well – even his feet were hairy! And from this veritable mass of curly hair, his long phallus protruded – also coated in wiry auburn hairs. It was more than slightly distracting.

It was at this point that Tom's brain kicked in. I have no idea what happens now. For all that Tom was a capable seducer, a charismatic devil; he'd never actually had… What am I doing acting the expert? Albus was standing there looking very embarrassed. Tom had to do something. He's a man. I'm a man – what would I like?

Albus was beginning to regret this whole afternoon when Tom's arms latched around his waist and pulled him close to the seated wizard. Tom began to trail kisses around Albus' thighs… near his… oh, so near his"Tom…!"

He was answered by a spitting noise. "…Sorry, hair in my mouth." There was an uncomfortable pause and Albus was just about to apologize for his surplus of hair when the kisses continued and he forgot all about it.

~*~

"I have pushed the boundaries of magic further, perhaps, than they have ever been pushed -"

"Of some kinds of magic… of others, you remain...forgive me...woefully ignorant." – 'Half-Blood Prince', p. 415

The first thing Tom realized when he woke up was that he was far too warm. He pushed his body toward the stone wall next to his mattress in order to cool down – the wall was always pleasantly cold. But instead of pressing against stone masonry, he found himself next to the source of the warmth – Albus Dumbledore. He opened his eyes.

Tom was in Albus' bed. If he hadn't noticed the naked wizard next to him, the red and gold covers ought to have given the game away. What am I doing here? Tom asked himself, staring up at the ceiling. Last night… yesterday afternoon and evening… Why do I always have to do this? Why do I always take things that much too far? He sighed as Albus' arms encircled his waist and pulled him closer. The professor began to snore. You need to learn some self-control, Tom admonished himself. You can't leave well enough alone, can you? It was fun, fine, amusing certainly. But now you're sleeping with him? What happened to caution and careful planning? What happened to sanity? If he finds out…!

Tom listened to Albus' breathing and replicated its cadence, taking deep breaths. Nobody is going to find out the truth about Morfin Gaunt and the Riddles, least of all Albus Dumbledore. His occlumentic shields would make sure that Albus' Tom Riddle and Lord Voldemort would never cross paths. Because great as Albus was, he would never understand Lord Voldemort – which in turn would mean that he would never guess why Tom was working at Borgin and Burke's… nothing to worry about. He couldn't even imagine an nineteen year-old having one horcrux, let alone two.

Having soothed his nerves, Tom allowed himself to stretch out on the luxurious bed. He pushed the covers off onto Albus and lay there naked; wondering at the surreal twists life could throw at you. Finally, the only teacher to have disliked him, the only man to have suspected him for Myrtle's death, had fallen for him utterly. He leaned over and kissed his old teacher affectionately.

"Mmmph? Oh, hello Tom…" Albus blinked awake, he rolled against Tom's body and closed his eyes.

"Not a morning person?" Tom asked playfully, for which he received a muffled groan and a hand clumsily swatted at his head, missing by several inches. Tom, not keen to waste the day, got up and found the bathroom, where he ran himself a cold bath. Ever since cold showers at the orphanage, he'd been unable to tolerate washing in hot water unless he was really chilled. He eyed Albus' collection of shampoos, soaps and ointments with curiosity. He usually made do with a quick scourgify, but some of the bottles looked interesting; better not, I don't want to turn up for work reeking of perfume.

Washed and dressed, Tom made his way downstairs to the kitchen. Dumbledore had no elves and, to Tom's surprise, owned a muggle toaster. Unfortunately, as there was no power supplied to the house, the toaster was completely useless. Tom decided to make an omelette for himself and Albus, since there was one egg which served as the only vaguely breakfast-type food in the pantry, apart from lots of jam and marmalade. Just looking at it all made Tom cringe. How does that man stay so thin when he practically lives off sugar? He supposed it was just genetics. Tom set about making his omelette, multiplying the egg and banishing the mould from a lonely lump of cheese. There turned out to be an over-grown herb garden hidden away in the corner of the yard where Tom found some rosemary.

Albus Dumbledore stumbled down the stairs in his dressing-gown, following the inviting smell of egg, herbs and melted cheese. And there was Tom, scraping round the pan with a knife, looking very handsome with his tousled wet hair. "You know how to cook?" Albus said, breathing in the wonderful egg-cheese aroma.

"Of course," Tom turned and raised an eyebrow at Albus, "everyone had kitchen duties at the orphanage and…" he looked meaningfully at the cupboard, "I hate to break it to you, but jam does not serve as a staple diet."

Albus found himself blushing. "Mm… hmm… yes, well, I've never been good with cooking… Aberforth used to do it before… he made really good goat's cheese."

Tom sniffed, "A powerful wizard ought to be able to see to his own needs without undue reliance on a cupboard full of preserves." He set a plate full of omelette on the kitchen table. "There you go. I suggest you make the most of it."

It was delicious. "You'd better be careful, Tom," Albus warned, "I might just have to keep you here forever if you can make this kind of breakfast for a hungry wizard…"

Chuckling, Tom smiled. "I have to meet with one of Mr. Burke's clients today…"

"Who's the lucky client?"

"…Arcturus Black, something about a vanishing cupboard."

Albus frowned. "Be careful, Tom. The Blacks are a family renowned for their affinity with dark magic."

"Don't worry about me, Albus. I'm well aware of what Mr. Black is capable of." Tom said it stiffly, his young face hard.

"You're so young…" Albus sighed. "But I suppose when I was your age I thought I was invincible too."

Tom rolled his eyes and didn't answer, tucking into his breakfast. He'd dealt with Mr. Black last week – and given him a good price. Today's agenda was quite different… Slytherin's locket – mother's locket – and Hufflepuff's cup… perfect vessels…

"Tom?" Albus' voice cut through Tom's thoughts.

"Yes?" Tom said it slightly too fast.

"Is anything the matter? You seem… preoccupied."

"I'm fine, Albus."

By three o'clock that afternoon Tom Marvolo Riddle had committed his sixth murder and split his soul for the third time. He had chosen the cup, rather than the locket – it was more appropriate for Ms. Smith. He'd also nipped into Diagon Alley and gone grocery shopping for Albus. It was five o' clock by the time Tom knocked on the door of Godric's Hollow. No one answered.

Tom walked around the back, where the back door into the kitchen was open. Albus was asleep in an armchair, mouth open, gently snoring. He'd deposited his two treasures at Gringotts before coming – it wouldn't do to leave objects of such value in a street full of thieves – even with the strongest warding spells. He shook Albus' shoulder and smiled. "Good evening, Albus… productive day, was it?"

Albus blinked up at him and yawned, "Most productive, I–" He stopped, "Tom, what's wrong with your eyes?"

"What?" Tom touched a hand to his eyelids, "I can't feel anything wrong…"

"I've never seen eyes that bloodshot. I think you should go to St. Mungo's – you deal with a lot of cursed objects, after all, and better to be safe than sorry… and you're very pale…" He caught hold of Tom's hand and took him the hall mirror.

There were almost no white to Tom's eyes, the blood-vessels were leaking even into the dark irises. Tom opened his mouth only to shut it again, staring. "I… how odd…" His heart filled with fear that here was visible evidence of what he'd done – but who knew the symptoms of soul-splitting? None of the books mentioned it. Dumbledore couldn't possibly know… could he? He felt fifteen again and hated it.

"They don't hurt? Have you been bitten by something?

"Not that I recall." Tom was surprised by how calm his words were.

Albus guided him to a kitchen chair. "Talk me through today, what happened?" The professor sat down on the other side of the table, hands clasped, elbows on the wood.

Tom took a deep breath, cleared his mind, and then cast it back to the day when he had gone to see Mr. Black about his cabinet. "Well, I… called in, he offered me tea – I didn't accept – and showed me upstairs where the cabinet was. Apparently, his nephew Cygnus had gotten stuck inside it the other day in some kind of hide and seek accident. Naturally, he gave me time to assess its worth, about four hours, after which I explained that Mr. Burke couldn't offer very much for a cursed cabinet that didn't do much except entrap children, and not for very long at that. He did attempt to haggle, but in the end I got the thing for 17 galleons. Then I headed for Diagon Alley and bought some groceries. That's it."

"And you're sure this cabinet was harmless?"

"I tested it extensively – routine assessment of cursed antiques. Completely harmless, just a mutable compartment charm, but I didn't enter the thing anyway." Tom didn't mention that it had turned out to be one of a set of two way cabinets, the other one residing in an unused classroom of Hogwarts (thank goodness little Cygnus was a slow boy), and that its value was considerably more than he'd led Mr. Black to believe. Mr. Burke always paid Tom handsomely for such finds.

"Hmm…" Albus reached a hand across the table to touch the corner of his left eye as Tom instinctively lowered his eyelids. The professor pulled out his elder wood wand. "May I?" Tom nodded, trusting that a horcrux-detector wasn't part of any diagnostic spell Albus would cast. The older man smiled at him and stood up, holding Tom's forehead with his left hand as he began casting.

After half an hour of almost solid spell-work, interspersed by Tom's suggestions of other charms he might try, Albus gave up. They went upstairs and collapsed on Albus' bed. "So that's it. All we've established is that your eyes were bloodshot for no particular reason. I don't like this. It's sinister. We just haven't found the right spell."

"Well, you made them stop bleeding, at least," Tom kissed Albus tenderly. "Thank you. I was scared they wouldn't stop." His eyes were still bloodshot, but no longer quite so unnaturally suffused with crimson fluid.

Albus leaned into the kisses, "The thing that interests me is why your own spells couldn't affect them–" He stopped and began to twiddle his beard. "That's… it…! This is coming from your own magic!"

Those muddy-red eyes widened as Tom's whole body tensed. "What… do you mean?"

"It's very rare for a person's magic to mutilate their own body… it usually happens to those who exhaust their magical abilities… or fear them. My, my… sister had it…" The thought that brilliant Tom could possibly end up like poor Ariana bade fair to break Albus' heart. "It's like the accidental magic of children except instead of helping them it… hurts them. Promise me you won't do any magic for the next few days, you must have overextended yourself!"

"If you think… that's what it is…?" Tom said quietly, there was a slight tremor in his voice.

"It's the only explanation."

"Then… I promise." Tom pulled Albus closer and kissed him deeply, perhaps harder than usual, bruising Albus' lip. "But that means I can't go to work… which means I'll have to find something else to do for the next few days…"

Albus nodded gravely, "Quite so… quite so…"

~*~

"- the trouble is, humans do have a knack for choosing precisely those things which are worst for them" – 'Philosopher's Stone', p. 215

Nicolas Flamel stared at Albus Dumbledore for some time, unsure of what to say. Such a confession was a delicate matter, naturally, and Nicolas was an old-fashioned man – what a man did in his own home was his business… nevertheless… "And you showed him parts of our research?" He said eventually, his words weighted.

"Yes," Albus bobbed his head, taking a plum tart from the plate on the table. Perenelle was a wonderful cook. She'd had centuries of practice. His teeth were just sinking into it as Nicolas spoke again.

"Did it not occur to you that this… interest might not be totally innocent?" The alchemist turned away, uneasy discussing his friend's affairs.

Albus shook his head vehemently as he finished off the mouthful. "Do you mean his interest in me or my work?"

"Perhaps they are the same thing?" Nicolas sniffed, finally showing the disapproval he felt. "I don't think you know quite what you're doing, my friend."

"I showed Tom the papers in order to fire the boy's ambition. Immortality is a tantalizing subject and he needs… motivation. You'd never guess he was a Slytherin, Nicolas! His is an astonishing talent and all he wants is the application of that talent. He's working in a shop, for Merlin's sake."

Momentarily silenced by Albus' statement, Nicolas blew a smoke-ring into the air. It was clear the boy would not budge from his position, or see the danger of it. Be it on his own head, he thought, no one could say I haven't tried. "…As a favour to me, could you refrain from showing this Mr. Riddle our work in the future?"

"Of course!" Albus huffed, his feathers ruffled. "Though I really don't see why..."

Oh dear, Nicolas thought, it's serious…

At that point Perenelle entered, her well-worn smile saving Nicolas from further embarrassment.

When the story got this long, I realised I should post it. Unfortunately, I've also run out of inspiration. So if you want more, please review, and feel free to make suggestions as to what should happen next! ^_^